A roadmap to decarbonising the food and drink sector

Published: 03/12/2020

Emma Piercy, Head of Climate Change & Energy Policy at Food and Drink Federation, writes about the food and drink industry’s path to decarbonising.

This week I chaired the first session of the UK Food and Drink Federation’s online convention. It was great to open the event with a focus on climate and carbon net zero – how food producers can work towards net zero, and it really shows how far our sector has come in the last year. 

I joined FDF back in October 2019, new to food but with a full career in the energy sector. Having that background enabled me to hit the ground running, and in leading the climate change and energy policy work at FDF, this has been essential.

The first area for us to engage in was the heat debate. 

While the pathway for decarbonising electricity is well understood, the same cannot be said for heat – and in food and drink manufacturing, emissions from heat use are currently around 4,000 k tCO2 per annum – and 97% of these emissions come from natural gas. 

How can we de-carbonise this heat? 

This is a question many industrial sectors have been grappling with to be able to feed into the UK Government’s industrial decarbonisation strategy coming in spring 2021.

To answer this question, I initiated a report with SLR Consulting on how to decarbonise heat in food and drink manufacturing. 

Published in June 2020, the report found that on the whole, low grade heat can be electrified, whilst a decarbonised gas system and hydrogen will need to replace natural gas for high grade heat. 

The analysis showed that whilst it is possible to fully decarbonise, a number of enabling measures are needed to bridge the gap between what is currently realistic and a ‘max tech scenario’.

The report makes recommendations including the need for long-term clarity of carbon pricing and mechanisms to encourage the move from high to low carbon energy solutions such as with a commitment to a third phase of Climate Change Agreements with a shift in focus to carbon reductions. 

Knowledge sharing is essential

The report also raised the need for a dedicated scheme to fund key demonstration projects on step-change technologies, alongside a food and drink industry taskforce, to facilitate knowledge share across the sector on technology innovations and implementation and to work with government on policy development.

Indeed, collaboration among all stakeholders across all industries is key to making progress towards net zero – and not least in food and drink, which is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK. 

But while I have talked a lot about scope 1 (direct) and scope 2 (indirect) emissions, the footprint of scope 3 emissions from the wider supply chain is much larger.

Full supply chain commitment to net zero

The recent British Retail Consortium (BRC) Climate Action Roadmap published on 10th November highlights that for the average UK citizen, 25% of their carbon footprint is from food. 

They, alongside the National Farmers Union (NFU) plan to achieve net zero by 2040 – and to make all products sold in the UK net zero by 2040. These developments are galvanising action in the sector, and so too with us at FDF. 

Very shortly we will conclude our net zero narrative project which lays the foundation for developing our roadmap to net zero – a key priority for 2021.

This will complete the farm-to-fork chain with the NFU and BRC. Core areas will include sustainable and healthy diets and the circular economy where a lot of work has already been undertaken.

FDF has also joined forces with the government and other trade associations to build momentum on engaging SMEs on net zero, and to ensure engagement across all groups ahead of the UK hosting COP26 in November 2021.

2021 will be a very important and busy year!

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